The Sri Lankan Government has blocked access to social media websites in the wake of the deadly blasts that killed at least 290 people over the weekend.
Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube were listed as the social media sites “temporarily” blocked by the government.
According to a Sri Lankan Government spokesperson, the blocks were an attempt to prevent the spread of misinformation.
In announcing the blockade, the Sri Lankan Presidential Secretariat said, “the decision to block social media was taken as false news reports were spreading through social media.”
According to a post on news.lk – the Sri Lankan Government’s official news portal – the ban would be effective until investigations into the bombings had concluded.
The block does not appear to have been applied to Twitter.
The controversial decision has sparked debate around the world about the rise of ‘fake news’ and freedom of speech.
“We are aware of the government’s statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms,” said a Facebook spokesperson.
“People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time.”
Director of the Journalism Fellowship Programme at the University of Oxford, Meera Selva, said the decision prevents citizens from understanding what has occurred.
“By shutting down social media, leaving its citizens reliant on state messaging and a weak and beaten down form of journalism, the government now risks preventing Sri Lankans from finding out the truth about what is happening in their fragile and delicately balanced country,” she said.
“And that can only lead to suspicion and division, presumably the very thing the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday atrocity wanted.”
It is the second time the government has shutdown social media in recent memory.
In 2018 officials cut off access to Facebook for 72 hours in certain parts of the country after it was used to incite anti-Muslim riots.
The riots resulted in two deaths.
The government-imposed ban comes just over a month after Facebook was used to live-stream terrorist shootings in Christchurch that killed 50 people.